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Sobotka, Hunwick pumped to be back 10.14.08 at 11:24 am ET
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As expected, Matt Hunwick and Vladimir Sobotka were both appropriately happy to be called back up to the
Sobotka ready to follow Shawn Thornton and "run over some French guys."

Sobotka ready to follow Shawn Thornton and "run over some French guys."

Bruins Tuesday afternoon after a trade (Andrew Alberts) and an injury (Chuck Kobasew) cleared up a pair of spots on the active roster.

Sobotka was a monster down in Providence in his two games for the P-Bruins (four points and his first professional dropping of the gloves) and Hunwick said somebody told him it was like “watching a man among boys” while Sobotka was tearing up the ice at the AHL level. Hunwick is the potential quick-skating, puck-moving defenseman that is vital in this day and age of the NHL, and should be competing with veteran Shane Hnidy for minutes. Sobotka is a “gritty, in-your-face player” who “plays like he’s six foot plus” no matter size he really is according to head coach Claude Julien. The coach said that both players can expect to see ice time in the near future, if not immediately. The long on-ice practice seemed to indicated that at least one (Sobotka) — if not both — will be active Wednesday night against the first grudge match of the season at the Bell Centre in Montreal.

Solid hockey hair for Hunwick

Solid hockey hair for Hunwick

“When you look at Matt Hunwick everybody notices that he’s got good mobility and he’s a great skater. He’s gotten stronger over the year since the beginning of last year and his decisions on the ice have to be a little quicker — let’s put it way – in order for him to improve the way that we want him to,” said Julien after Tuesday’s practice. “He’s still doing a good job at it, and when you look at players improving, it’s something that if he can get better at it he’s going to be a really good defenseman in the this league.

“With Vlad we talked about the numbers game and he had to go down there for a while when we had to cut our roster down, but he’s a gritty player,” added Julien. “He’s in your face. No matter what size he is, he plays six-foot plus every single night. He works hard, plays gritty and that’s part of our team identity. I haven’t made my final decision for tomorrow [night's line-up], but we didn’t bring them up here to put them on the shelf. If it’s not tomorrow then it’s some point [soon].”

Also for all those wondering, Sobotka did drive his nice, new BMW 3 Series up to Boston after learning of his call-up. The 21-year-old Czech was summarily excited to be back up with the B’s big club, and he would have likely never left the club if not for the numbers/salary cap tightness that was a part of the equation.

“They send me down and they told me I’d be back after a short period. I’m going to play NHL and try to stay here for whole season. I had maybe more ice time in Providence,” said Sobotka, who scored a goal and six assists in 48 games last year. ”I play PP, PK and it’s good for now that it’s changed and I’ll be on fourth line and maybe have less ice time. I’ll just play one game at a time up here.”

Hunwick had just finished eating lunch with his parents at the Cheesecake Factory and was book-shopping at a bookstore on Newbury Street when he heard the good news about getting called back up to Boston on Monday. The 23-year-old blueliner has 12 career NHL games under his belt — and one lonely assist – so he bolted quickly from the bookstore without buying the latest John Grisham novel  and didn’t waste any time getting his gear ready to bring back to Boston.

“It’s an opportunity to prove I can play at this level and also help the team win,” said Hunwick. “I was playing 20 minutes a night in Providence and killing penalties and getting power play team. I got some key minutes in those areas in case I’m ever needed on those units up here. I had my phone off and it was kind of a day off so I could get away from things. But then I turned it on and had a few text messages from friends that gave me a clue this was happening, so here I am today.”

Read More: Add new tag, Andrew Alberts, Boston Bruins, Chuck Kobasew
Haggs’ NHL 2008-09 Preview 10.09.08 at 5:37 pm ET
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This is what I did to the last guy that mocked the Bruins

This is what I did to the last guy that mocked the Bruins

“The feeling [the team] got after Game 6 I want them to remember, and the feeling they had after Game 7 they should remember too. They should have gained some experience from that playoff series, and hopefully we can take it to the next level this year. We want to continue to improve. We have some good young talent this year.”

These are the encouraging words of a highly competitive man with a vested interest in the return of the Big Bad Bruins: Bruins Vice President and link to Boston’s Black and Golden past, Cam Neely. Neely was talking about this year’s edition of the Boston Skating Club with Glen Ordway, Brian Daubach and Lou Merloni on the Big Show Thursday afternoon.

Neely certainly sounded optimistic about the team’s chances of building on a first round playoff loss that included the best hockey game ever played (Game 6) at the TD Banknorth Garden since its inception.

Neely’s words couldn’t be more cogent or prophetic when it comes to this year’s team. The Bruins showed last season that they could scrape, claw, bleed and punch their way to the playoffs with defensive intensity, opportunistic scoring when an opponent made a mistake, athletic goaltending and the physical intimidation that once seemed a birthright along with a Bruins jersey. The B’s weren’t as talented or explosive as teams like the Sabres, Hurricanes or Lightning, yet they were still standing on their skates after those other teams had been eliminated from consideration for Lord Stanley’s Annual Cup tournament. 

The team must embrace and repeat the work ethic and snarl that made them playoff quality last season, but also need to raise their scoring output and skill level. Both objectives should be helped immensely by the return of Patrice Bergeron to the lineup. Bergie is easily the best two-way hockey player on the Bruins and was ascending into  one of the best in the NHL last year at 22 years old when a concussion knocked him out of commission just 10 games into the year.

Bergeron’s return along with the maturation of skilled skaters like Phil Kessel, David Krejci, Blake Wheeler, Vladimir Sobotka and Milan Lucic should help a boost team that finished second from the bottom in scoring (the Islanders actually scored 18 fewer goals than the B’s last season) among Eastern Conference

How much can I make as a shoot-out specialist?

How much can I make as a shoot-out specialist?

teams last season. Kessel will be a huge key if he can play like he did following his benching in the playoffs. Immediate chemistry between Marc Savard and Michael Ryder would also go a long way toward giving Boston the scoring punch they were missing with the clearly calcified Glen Murray last season. 

The biggest key, though, is for the players to remain hungry for respect around the NHL and bent on success in the dormant hockey city of Boston. The trick is to accomplish this without losing sight of what them such a formidable foe in the first place. If you go back and watch Game 6 of last season’s matchup with the Canadiens (I can’t imagine there’s a serious Bruins fan out there who still doesn’t have the game on DVR), that is all the proof you need that people will come — and watch — if there is quality hockey on the frozen sheet. 

It’ll be interesting to see if the Bruins are able to add another defenseman at some point in the season, as the hockey buzz is that Florida Panthers D-man Jay Boumeester is going to be up-for-sale when the playoff sun sets early in Sunrise, Fla. He would be the perfect puck-moving compliment to Zdeno Chara, but for now the Bruins will have to make due with one bruising #1 blueliner on their roster along with a gritty group of 3′s and 4′s.

There’ll be plenty of time this season to pick apart the B’s, however, so here’s Haggs’ predictions across the NHL for the 2008-09 season.

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division: This is probably still the strongest division in the Eastern Conference and I could easily see four playoffs teams coming here. A full season of Malkin and Crosby will be something, but the injuries to Whitney and Gonchar really hurt their blueline bottom line. Bold denotes playoff-bound. 1) Penguins 2) Flyers 3) Rangers 4) Devils 5) Islanders.

Northeast Division: The Canadiens are still very good and could again end the regular season as the Eastern Conference #1 seed. It all depends on Carey Price. The Sens are on their way down and the Maple Leafs will bottom out this year. 1) Canadiens 2) Bruins 3) Sabres 4) Senators 5) Maple Leafs.

Southeast Conference: Washington is clearly the class of this division and ready to take another step up, but watch out for the Lightning and their mullet-maned coach. The Panthers are another member of the Rock Bottom Club. 1) Capitals 2) Lightning 3) Hurricanes 4) Thrashers 5) Panthers.

MVP: Alex Ovechkin, Coach of the Year (Adams): Claude Julien, Norris Trophy Candidate: Zdeno Chara, Vezina Trophy: Henrik Lvndquist, Rookie of the Year (Calder): Steve Stamkos

Western Conference

Central Division: The Red Wings got richer with Marian Hossa (I must say that I actually kind of applaud his willingness to take a one-year deal to win a title) and will have only the baby-faced Blackhawks as competition. 1) Red Wings 2) Blackhawks 3) Blue Jackets 4) Blues 5) Predators.

Northwest Division: 10 points separated the top from the bottom in this division last year, and that could very happen again this season. No team stands out, but all could win a hockey game on any given night. This division could change radically if the Canucks ever find a way to score some goals for Roberto Luongo 1) Wild 2) Flames3) Oilers 4) Avalanche 5) Canucks.

I am so not into hockey players, you hoser

I am so not into hockey players, you hoser

Pacific Division: The most talent-heavy division in the Western Conference and there could be a new sheriff in the form of the Dallas Stars. It all depends on which hot Hollywood starlet Sean Avery goes after next. Could Robin from How I Met Your Mother fame be next? 1) Stars 2) Sharks 3) Ducks 4) Coyotes 5) Kings.

MVP: Brendan Morrow, Coach of the Year: Mike Keenan, Norris Trophy: Nik Lidstrom, Vezina Trophy: Marty Turco, Rookie of the Year: Kyle Turris.

Eastern Conference Finals: Penguins against the Canadiens. Penguins advance in seven games.

Western Conference Finals: Red Wings against the Stars. Stars advance in an epic seven games series.

Stanley Cup Winner: Dallas Stars. Sidney Crosby is again the bridesmaid and starts to get the Peyton Manning, A-Rod “Big Athlete that can’t win the Big Game” treatment. 

 

Ready to drop the puck! 10.09.08 at 5:38 am ET
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Which one of these doesn't belong?

Which one of these doesn't belong?

So, I’ll have a full-blown NHL preview up on PWH at some point today, but I just wanted to troll around the Internet and A) see if I could travel all the way to the end of it or B) find as many NHL previews as possible to get a sense of what the “National” sentiment is concerning the Bruins.

I imagine that most hockey experts are in one of two camps when it comes to the guys in the Spoked B’s sweaters: either they feel like the Bruins showed real improvement with a young cast of characters last season and should be better with ever-maturing prospects skating along with a healthy Patrice Bergeron. The other school of thought is that the Bruins overacheived on some level while sneaking into the playoffs, and they won’t be able to sneak up on unsuspecting hockey teams this season like they did last year.

Bobby Bobblehead says "Yay" to the playoffs

Bobby Bobblehead says "Yay" to the playoffs

I’m more inclined to go with the former theory that the Bruins are playoff-worthy with tight defense and an aggressive sandpaper style of hockey, but this season they should be a bit more potent offensively with Bergeron on the PP. But that’s just me. Let’s see what everyone else has to say:

ESPN’s John Buccigross (who I’ll give full credit to for being one of the few true “hockey guys” in Bristol) has the B’s finishing seventh in the Eastern Conference. An excerpt from his capsule on the Bruins: There is something about this team that I like. I sense a positive vibe around the Bruins that should be enhanced with the return of their best player, Patrice Bergeron. The Bruins have not won a playoff series since 1999, the only series they’ve won since the 1994 lockout. Not the 2004 lockout. They have been a sorry franchise. The Bruins are certainly not a lock to make the postseason, but for the first time in a while, Boston seems to have some organizational passion and a plan. The margin for error is small. The key players need to be healthy, and the young players need to be important players without a drop-off.

The Hockey News has the Bruins finishing tenth in the Eastern Conference: There isn’t much explanation behind their pick on the Hockey News web site, but they see the Bruins finishing ahead of only the Buffalo Sabres, Florida Panthers, Atlanta Thrashers, Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Islanders. This is one prognostication that I would consider the “glass half-emptiest prediction.”

Sports Illustrated picks the Bruins to finish seventh in the East and again qualify for the playoffs while also picking Zdeno Chara as the Northeast Division MVP and Milan Lucic as the division’s “player to watch”: Don’t mistake these Bruins for the bruisers who famously carried the club in the 1970s and ’80s, but this is the Northeast’s most physical team, and Boston should bully its way to a second straight playoff berth.  Boston was 24th in the NHL in goals last season, something the addition of free agent Michael Ryder will help but won’t cure by itself. The Bruins’ real center of attention is mild-mannered pivot Patrice Bergeron (above), who missed all but 10 games of the Bruins’ 18-point revival last season. 

Yahoo Sports Hockey Editor Ross McKeon picked the Bruins third in the Northeast Division, but says they’ll

Dude...seriously.

Dude...seriously.

 be hard-pressed to again make the playoffs (one thing I would say is that he really needs to get over the Joe Thornton trade): The Bruins still miss Joe Thornton, whether they admit it or not. It seems like everything is going to have to go right for Boston to be a solid playoff team, sand considering all the bumps a team faces in the regular season, the guess is the Bruins will be in a dogfight to slip into a playoff spot again. 

CBS Sportsline’s Wes GoldStein has the Bruins finishing second in the Northeast Division and has coach Coach Claude Julien winning the Adams Award this season: The Bruins accelerated their building process with a surprise appearance in the playoffs last season and nearly upsetting Montreal in the first round. The expectations will be higher this time. The best news though for Boston has been the return of Patrice Bergeron, who missed almost all of last season because of a concussion, and has looked very good in the preseason. 

Inside Hockey’s James Murphy has the Bruins finishing seventh in the Eastern Conference and making the playoffs: The Bruins were one of last season’s most pleasant surprises, reverting back to the hard working, bruising style that defined them when the likes of Terry O’Reilly and Cam Neely wore the black and gold with pride. Much like those Bruins icons, sophomore winger Milan Lucic has become one of the faces of the franchise. The biggest additions are three players returning from injuries — center Patrice Bergeron, defenseman Andrew Alberts, and goaltender Manny Fernandez — all of whom could make a huge impact. If Tim Thomas can deliver a repeat performance between the pipes and Fernandez can provide a solid complement, the Bruins are fine in goal, and the Zdeno Chara-led defense is unquestionably stout. The biggest question is whether newcomer Michael Ryder and the returning Bergeron can conspire to make the Bruins’ offense click. 

Fox Sports’ Darren Spang sees the Bruins returning to the playoffs and Spector (apprently rock stars and hockey analysts are in the same boat when it comes to one name monikers) has the Bruins finishing seventh in the Eastern Conference: The return of a healthy Patrice Bergeron at center should provide a significant boost to their offense. A consistent performance this season by goaltender Tim Thomas should bolster the Bruins’ postseason hopes. The improvement of young forwards Phil Kessel, Milan Lucic and David Krejci could also boost their forward depth, while head coach Claude Julien’s defensive system should make the Bruins tough to score against. Captain Zdeno Chara is still nursing a shoulder injury from last season and management is on the lookout for another puck-moving defenseman. While some gaps in the roster remain to be addressed, the Bruins appear in better shape this season than they were a year ago.  

Be back in a bit with my own take on the Bruins and the NHL this season…let’s drop the puck already!

Read More: Andrew Alberts, Boston Bruins, Cam Neely, Claude Julien
Alberts not worried about trades 10.07.08 at 10:25 pm ET
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"Hey Z...Don't let them send me to Altoona."

"Hey Z...Don't let them send me to Altoona."

Life hasn’t exactly been a bunch of icing-topped cupcakes for Andrew Alberts over the past month of his hockey life.

The 27-year-old defenseman got off a slow start after essentially getting tossed into a Bruins training camp that featured games within the first 72 hours of preseason’s actual kick-off, and he only just recently felt as if he was his normal hard-hitting, defensively-reliable self. Quarterbacking the power play or stealing the breath away from an arena crowd with his skating ability aren’t ever going to be in Alberts’ bag of puck tricks, but — as everyone’s favorite hoodie model/football coach is so fond of saying – he is what he is: a bruising 6-foot-4, 220-pound defenseman that’s at his best when he’s making the opposition think twice about going in the corners and utilizing his physical strength to steer players away from the front of the net.

McFilthy...

McFilthy...

It’s certainly true that Alberts hasn’t been quite the same since suffering a concussion at the hands of the McFilthy and McNasty Philadelphia Flyers mid-way through last season (for those unclear which dirty Scott Hartnell hit I’m talking about…here it is), but he truly felt like he’d begun to put things together last weekend.  Albie stepped up and unloaded a few shots, notched a few body hits and started feeling in the flow during a Saturday tune-up against the Islanders, but then he took a frustrating step back in Sunday’s preseason finale when he was a step behind the action, careless with the puck and finished with a -2 on the evening.

“It was a busy preseason with a lot of travel. Last year I got into a couple of

McNasty? Really?

McNasty? Really?

games at the end, but I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been,” said Alberts. “It took a while to get adjusted to thinking quickly on the ice and game situations, but it’s coming along. I thought I played my best game on Saturday [against the Islanders] but Sunday wasn’t very good.

“Obviously there’s so many good young guys here this year pushing for a spot, and it seems like it’s by far the most that we’ve had here in the three years that I’ve been here,” added Alberts. “Right now we have numbers and names being thrown around a lot. All you can do is come to the rink, do your work and not worry about things you can’t control. It’s up to the staff.”

The Bruins are roughly $250,000 under the salary cap with the 23 players currently earmarked to make the trip to the Pepsi Center in Colorado for the Oct. 9 season-opener, but Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli is surely looking to clear up more capital space under the cap. Alberts is a logical candidate to be moved because he’s in the last year of his rookie deal and his $1.25 million would give Chiarelli the kind of salary cap breathing room he covets. His name has been tossed around in trade talks with several teams, but none of these “hot stove” hockey rumors have gained much traction. Many of Alberts’ teammates lamented the annual tense, stress-filled uncertainty that accompanies the regular season roster deadline, but have made peace with that side of the hockey business.

“The toughest part about it as an athlete is remembering that there’s a facet of this job that’s all about economics,” said B’s blueliner Aaron Ward. “There’s so much that goes into making up a team. i think now moreso than ever players are uneasy about where they fit into a team. Your salary along with your personality and your skill has to fit into the team. No longer are you just simply good enough.”

Rosters must be “good enough” by 3 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon, so the answers for both Alberts, the Bruins and…well…the media will be forthcoming shortly. Alberts hopes to be in Boston when the ice chips clear, but he’s also well aware that the business of hockey could whisk him away to some other hockey city sooner rather than later. 

“You guys know more than I do,” said Alberts. “I try not to listen to the radio or look at papers, and I just come to the rink every day and do my job. I have friends texting me all the time asking if I’m going to Vancouver or going to Chicago, and telling what’s being said out there. I tell them I really don’t know anything.

“We’ll see what happens,” added Alberts. “There’s nothing you can really do. It’s part of the game.”

Read More: Aaron Ward, Andrew Alberts, Boston Bruins, Peter Chiarelli
Cut-down day for the Bruins 10.07.08 at 12:21 pm ET
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Would you like #18, Mr. Wheeler?

Would you like #18, Mr. Wheeler?

The days leading up to the regular season are always a difficult time mixed with happiness and melancholy in the world of an NHL team, and the past several weeks have been more so for the Black and Gold given their depth situation. The Bruins haven’t boasted a team this deep or talented since prior to the NHL lockout, and the new salary cap wrinkle with regard to rookie bonus money has complIcated matters.

The emergence of 22-year-old rookie Blake Wheeler made it imperative that Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli clear room for the $2.85 million cap hit that Wheeler’s contract carries due to the rookie bonus money built into his deal. With that move in mind, forward Peter Schaefer ($2.1 million), Jeremy Reich ($487,500) and Nate Thompson ($500K) were all placed on waivers and young blueliner Matt Hunwick ($750K) was assigned to the Providence Bruins. It’s hard to imagine Thompson and Reich clearing through waivers given their hockey value and the affordable price tags that go along with them.

Chiarelli dilligently attempted to jettison Schaefer during the last few weeks of training camp, but Schaefer’s salary combined with last season’s underperformance (9 goals, 17 assists and countless DNP-CD’s in 63 games after notching 50 points and 46 respectively over the previous two seasons with the Ottawa Senators) left the Bruins GM without much a market. Give credit to both Chiarelli for essentially admitting that the signing of Schaefer turned out to be a free agent mistake, and to owner Jeremy Jacobs for agreeing to potentially swallow the entirety of Schaefer’s $2.1 million deal should he go unclaimed. It was obvious to everyone that Claude Julien wanted Big Wheeler on his roster from jump street, and both Chiarelli and Jacobs made difficult, appropriate decisions to make it happen.

According to an excellent site on NHL Salary Caps called Hockey Buzz the Bruins are now only $242,501 under the $56.7 million salary cap for the 2008-09 season, so expect another move potentially involving Andrew Ference,P.J. Axelsson or Andrew Alberts. Both defenseman and Axe would draw interest around the league and each is being paid in excess of $1 million — a sum that would give Chiarelli the room he’s looking for under the cap. I spoke with Alberts about recently hearing his name in trade rumors with both Vancouver and Chicago, and I’ll have a little something up on the blog about that in two shakes of a hockey stick.

In the meantime, here’s some thoughts from Chiarelli earlier this afternoon while addressing the B’s media corps about the roster moves:

PC: So we’ve made some roster moves to get us down to 23 on our roster. We’ve released Peter Schaefer and he’s on waivers today, and he’ll be designated for reassignment pending whether he’s claimed or not. We’ve put Jeremy Reich on waivers, so we’ll see if he clears in another 24 hours. Nate Thompson and Matt Hunwick. Nate will go on waivers too for 24 hours too, and Matt is a pure assignment with no waivers.

Was that a difficult decision with Schaefer or was that something that was pretty cut-and-dried? PC: Yeah, it was difficult. I have had a history with him in Ottawa and I brought him in here, but it wasn’t working out. I know he’s a good player and these things happen. We talked yesterday and we had a good talk. He may end up in another NHL city or he may end up in Providence.

Was there a lot of dissapointment on his end when you talked to him? PC: He’s been around the league for a while and I think he knew what was coming especially given the play of Blake Wheeler. He pretty much expected it is what he told me. He was disappointed that it didn’t work out here.

Was there a lot of trade feelers put out there before it came to this? PC: Oh yeah. It’s tough now. What happens is right now you’re looking at the roster and generally you’re really happy about it because you see all these competitions where somebody wins and somebody loses. So it’s tough now moving guys. But that changes in a week to a month when teams start not playing well.

Would you be open to using him on re-entry or is that not an option? PC: That’s something that down the road we might look at, but right now no. I need all the cap space I can get.

Did he have any insight as to why things didn’t work out with him here? PC: Yeah, but that will remain private. If you catch up with him he may say it, but I’m not going to talk for him.

So with these moves how much room do you have under the salary cap? PC: We’re still pretty tight. This may not be our final roster. There may be one more move before we leave tomorrow, but we’ll see how the rest of the day plays out.

Can you give us any indication as to what that move might be? PC: Ummm no. Not yet.

From the standpoint of depth within the organization, can you be hurt if somehow they all get claimed? PC: It speaks to two things: One that we’ve had all these difficult decisions and in my years here we haven’t had those kinds of difficult decisions, so it means that we have depth. We have teams calling about these players. Organizationally we’re in a good spot. But if we lose these players then our depth gets tested. But we have had some good perfromances in camp by guys that we’ve already released and sent down that I’d be comfortable with in certain instances.

Speak to how the loss of the bonus cushion has affected your decision-making? PC: Well it certainly has, but those are the rules we’re playing with this year. It might have saved a job or two, but I look at it like you’ve got to ice the best team possible. That’s how I look at it.

Speaking of Blake, preseason is obviously a very short window but do you feel like he’s good enough to be with this team over the long haul? PC: We still may have one more move, but Blake has made the team. We’re going to take it slowly. I liken it to Looch a little bit last year, but he’s a couple of years older. I want him to continue working hard and continue practicing hard and see a progression. The level of play really picks up now, so we’ll see how he does.

Did going through the development of Lucic last year help you trust your judgement a little more with Wheeler this year? PC: A little bit, but there’s a three-year age difference and that’s big at this point. What it does speak to is the coaching staff and their ability to help develop these young guys.

Is Wheeler making the team more or a surprise than Lucic last year? PC: Don’t forget that Blake was the fifth pick overall during his draft year, so he comes with a pretty thick resume. I guess as a third party you woud look down at this and expect him to make it rather than Lucic, with all things being equal.

How do you see the goaltending heading into the season? PC: I’m happy where they’re at. They both had good camps. Our objective was to have a strong duo and I think that’s what we’re getting.

Do you think in this day and age that any NHL team needs two goaltenders to get through a season? PC: I think it certainly helps. You can see the wear and tear with a couple of goalies that played a ton of games and you could see it impacted their playoff performance. So it definitely helps.

Read More: Andrew Alberts, Blake Wheeler, Jeremy Reich, Matt Hunwick
Don’t mess with the Looch 10.02.08 at 10:02 am ET
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Milan Lucic left a lot of hockey carnage in his wake last season

Milan Lucic left a lot of hockey carnage in his wake last season

Milan Lucic quickly became a bone-shattering, haymaker-throwing fan favorite in his first season donning the Spoked B sweater as a 19-year-old rookie. But the puck pugilist left Boston last April hungry for greater  personal and team success before heading back to the welcoming embrace of the Great White North of Vancouver for a summer of relaxation and off-season off-ice workouts.

While the hulking 6-foot-4, 220-pounder heads into his second NHL season expected to again project a looming physical presence and act as a battering ram on skates also capable of dropping the gloves when the situation dictates, Lucic spent the summer working on diversifying his game. He’s already shown a pretty good, soft pair of hands for a big guy and enough offensive instincts to register as a threat with the puck.

 The big winger is hoping to reach somewhere in the neighborhood of 15-20 goals as his offensive puck game continues to mature and improve along with the rest of his Bruins teammates. There’s no identity crisis brewing with the 20-year-old big B’s lug, however. Looch fully understands that much of his on-ice demeanor should be like something out of the pages of an Incredible Hulk comic book: Lucic mad! Lucic Smash!

“I’ve got to stick to what I do best and that’s really straight-line hockey. There’s no reason to take the physicality out of my game at all because I’m more successful when I’m physical and creating momentum,” said Lucic, who finished second on the team with 89 penalty minutes last season. ”You’ve got to keep the [fighting] in your game because you want to be that physical presence on the ice and you want to have an impact on the game.”

But the young left winger also knows that he flashed glimmers of offensive skill while putting up 9 goals and 18 helpers in 77 games. More will be expected of him — along with a bevy of his fellow young Bruins teammates – in Bruins Season 2.0, and Lucic targeted a few specific areas of offseason improvement with that in mind. With more shifts skating alongside offensive-minded linemates and a large helping of PP time, the big man’s point totals should rise right along with his PIMs.

With all that swirling around in his mind, Lucic recognized that his initial burst of skating speed wasn’t up to NHL snuff and is an area that could and should be improved. Big Looch was perfectly fine once he got those pistons firing in his skating legs and was churning at maximum power, but he felt like the explosive first step was missing.

“You know more of what to expect [coming into this season], but because I’m a young guy I’m still learning. In that sense, I think speed-wise I could have a quicker first step,” said Lucic.  ”Once I get going then I’m there but I really felt that first step was something I needed to work on.

“I feel like it’s there, but we’ll see where I’m at when the games really start. Hopefully I keep getting the minutes that I was getting last year. You do a lot of plyometrics and quick-feet stuff with the ladder and also explosive sprinting. I was doing parachute-work as well and going 40-meter sprints, 30-meter sprints, 20-meter sprints, 50-meter sprints with the parachute and then you rip the parachute off.”

Where did Lucic get the idea to use parachutes and other track-and-field style techniques to make himself a better hockey player, you ask?

This guy could use the power of the Looch

This guy could use the power of the Looch

Enter Ian Gallagher, Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Vancouver Giants. Gallagher has worked with Lucic from the time he was barely old enough to drive, and both coach and player tailored his off-season workouts around track exercises designed to improve his explosion and fast-twitch muscles. It was an easy assignment for Gallagher, who works with a large group of hockey players in the summer and always looks forward to his time with the blue collar kid from Vancouver.

Part of Gallagher’s joy comes from the tireless work ethic that Lucic lugs to the table with him, and the other huge part is some of the amazing feats of strength that the physical specimen puts on in the weight room. The legend started when Lucic was playing Junior Hockey in Canada for the Giants and it continued on into his first season with the Bruins.

“He certainly did a lot of his power speed-work and he’s getting older now…so his game is coming along appropriately fast. The first step is all about power that allows you to go from a stationary position to full exertion very quickly. So plyometrics are a big staple of his program and power cleaning is a big staple of his program. Change of direction is big with a lot of diagonal sprints where they’re stopping and going quickly.

“There was steady growth for Milan over the summer. He’s got great genetics and he’s a very committed person. He came back very motivated and very willing to improve, and his scores improved over the summer as you expect somebody would that’s got the proper motivation. Nothing surprises me with Milan though because he’s got a real disposition for growth.”

So just how eye-popping are the genetics of the tall and strapping winger, who defied the odds to crack the Bruins NHL roster as a 19-year-old last season and truly created an impact in Boston’s comeback campaign last year?

“He’s got a great frame to put on muscle mass and handle it. He’s got great levers and he’s got a very strong core and a good musculature to him that allows to excel,” said Gallagher. “His leg mass is tremendous. His leg press is well over 900 pounds for eight reps and his power clean for reps is 275 pounds, which are both really football player-like numbers.

“Which is a little amazing because he’s got a very unassuming musculature to him. Because you look at his arms and there’s not a heck of a lot of mass to them, but his core is just so bloody powerful. His legs are massive and his trunk is massive, and when he gets those big muscles going it demonstrates itself in a powerful way when he collides with somebody or when he’s shooting the puck. I think it’s one of his biggest assets.”

Those assets haven’t worked up to full-speed yet this preseason, but it’s only a matter of time before the 20-year-old turns those physical attributes into points and PIMs for the B’s this season.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Ian Gallagher, Milan Lucic, Vancouver Giants
Bay’s Tale of the Whale 09.28.08 at 6:15 pm ET
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Here’s a little baseball/hockey cross-promotional nugget given the fact that I cover both Boston baseball and hockey in my little sports journalism world. Any time there’s a Canadian on the Red Sox roster, any idle conversation I have with them usually turns to pucks at some point — and Sox left fielder Jason Bay is no different. Bay is a native of Trail, British Columbia and I naturally assumed, before talking to him about the game on the frozen sheet, that he was likely a big Canucks fan and that maybe he was a charter member of the Cam Neely Fan Club. Natural for a guy from B.C., ne-c’est, pas?

Play some Brass Bonanza...or else!

Play some Brass Bonanza...or else!

While Bay admitted his dad, David, was a Big Boston Bruins fan going back to the days of Bobby Orr and that fascination continued through the days of Neely and Ray Bourque, Jason proudly trumpeted the Hartford Whalers as his favorite team. That’s right: the Whale. Former Whalers forward Ray Ferraro is also a native of Trail, a fishing town of about 8,000 people, and all the kids in the town grew up idolizing Ferraro and therefore followed the travails of the Whale. Bay was 12 years-old when Ferraro finally shed the Green, Blue and White Whalers sweater in a trade for New York Islanders D-man Doug Crossman midway through the 1990-91 season after six plus seasons proudly donning the Whale-Tail.

“Trail is a pretty small place and Ray was having some of his big years with Hartford when I was growing up, so just about everybody in my hometown was a Whalers fan,” said Bay, who is also lifelong friends with Edmonton Oilers center Shawn Horcoff. “What is that song they play at the games…Brass Bonanza? Yeah, I got a kick out of that the first time I heard them playing it at Fenway Park.”

Bay never made it cross-country to the Hartford Civic Center for a game before the Whale morphed into a Hurricane, but he is hoping to get to a Bruins game at some point this season before returning home to Canada for the off-season. So if you happen to see a random Ray Ferraro Whalers sweater at a B’s game this winter, look a little more closely to see if it’s British Columbia’s best baseball player.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Boston Red Sox, Cam Neely, Doug Crossman
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